President Barack Obama and White House national security adviser Susan Rice met with a delegation of Christian Middle Eastern leaders in Washington, D.C., on Thursday that included at least one Hezbollah-supporting Lebanese cleric.
The meeting came one day after Sen. Ted Cruz was booed off the stage for defending Israel while giving a keynote address at a conference for the same delegation of Christian leaders.
The In Defense of Christians summit, which was aimed at raising awareness of persecution against Arab Christiansa, featured speeches by several Hezbollah supporters and some of Bashar al-Assad’s most vocal Christian allies.
One of the clerics who met with Obama was Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, the Daily Star reported on Thursday.
The Washington Free Beacon reported on Wednesday that Rai has called Israel an “enemy state that is occupying Lebanese territory” and defended Hezbollah’s right to attack the country.
“Everyone says why is Hezbollah carrying arms?” said Rai in a 2011 interview with Al-Arabiya. “We responded that the international community did not exert pressure on Israel to withdraw from Lebanese territory. As long as there is an occupied Lebanese territory, Hezbollah will maintain that it wants to carry arms in defense of its land. What will we say to it then? Isn’t [Hezbollah] right?”
Rai also welcomed a meeting with Hezbollah terror leader Hassan Nasrallah when he returns to Lebanon to discuss the problem of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) in the region.
“A dialogue committee already exists between [the Lebanon Maronite Church] and Hezbollah, and we are ready to hold any meeting in this respect,” said Rai late last month.
The Maronite leader said the meeting with Obama was productive, according to the Daily Star.
“Obama promised us to work on protecting Lebanon from all the repercussions of what is happening in the region,” said Rai. “We felt that Obama is concerned about the region and the danger posed by ISIS and wants to support the region and minorities through an action plan he is working on.”
According to an IDC press release, another attendee at the meeting with Obama was Orthodox Church Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, who posted photos on Facebook from his meeting with a “high level delegation from Hezbollah” last week. Antioch Church patriarch Gregory III Laham, who has called anti-Christian terrorism in Iraq a “Zionist conspiracy against Islam,” also attended, according to the press release. “We want to thank President Obama at this critical moment in history for meeting with the representatives of these Christian communities from the Middle East who face suffering and hardship for professing their religious beliefs,” said IDC president Toufic Baaklini in a statement.
Cruz was shouted down during his speech to the IDC summit on Wednesday night after calling on the audience to stand with him in support of Israel and noting the persecution that Jews face in the Middle East.
“If you will not stand with Israel, I will not stand with you,” said Cruz before walking out, amid shouts from audience members to get off the stage.
He said the anti-Israel jeers came from a vocal minority at the conference and were not reflective of Christianity or the views of many attendees.
“I’ve certainly encountered audiences that disagreed with a particular point of view. But this virulent display of hatred and bigotry was remarkable, and considerably different from anything I’ve previously encountered,” Cruz told the Free Beacon Wednesday night.
“The division and anti-Semitism expressed tonight by some of the crowd is not reflective of the teachings of Christ, and is in fact directly contrary to the tenets of Christianity.”
IDC President Toufic Baaklini said the audience heckling came from “a few politically motivated opportunists” to distract from the conferences focus on “opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will.”
The White House did not return request for comment.